Separation Under One Roof

As people are routinely working remotely, many families are forced into effective “lock down”.

Where does this leave those couples separated under one roof or people contemplating separating but required to stay living separately and apart in the same home?

To establish that you have separated, three elements are required:

  1. One party must form an intention to separate;
  1. The intention to separate needs to be communicated to the other party; and
  1. A change in behaviour occurs.

In the context of the current stressors experience by many families, it is likely that there will be a spike in people forming an intention to separate from their spouse or defacto partner.

There is also likely to be a spike in communication between spouse and defacto partners advising of their wish to separate.  Some of those communications will be made in haste and retracted.   Others will be heartfelt, considered and acted upon.

So this leaves us with the third element ie. establishing evidence of a change in behaviour.

Continuing in a bad marriage is different to living separately and apart under one roof after separation.  Things must change in order to prove that you are now separated under one roof.  What sort of things can change and how can you provide evidence of this in the context of our current restrictions?

Ordinarily to show you are separated but living separately and apart, you need to be able to say a number of the following things have occurred:

  1. You are no longer intimate. The coronavirus is unlikely to impact this;
  1. You are no longer holding yourself out in public and to your friends and family as a couple. This is difficult in the context of social isolation.  To the extent that you have the “house party” app or other group chats, remove yourself or your spouse from those platforms;
  1. Tell your family and friends that you are now separating. This is reasonably easy and perhaps more so because of coronavirus when we all have more time on our hands to connect and communicate in certain ways;
  1. You no longer provide mutual support and domestic services to each other. The impact of coronavirus on this particular element is likely to be mixed.  On the one hand it is easy to distance yourself and no longer wash, clean or cook for your spouse (who may occupy a separate part of the home).  However more difficult if you are say relying on the other person to shop for you because you are especially vulnerable or wishing to completely self-isolate to protect a vulnerable member of your household;
  1. Changes to your households finances.

After separation, people may discontinue or limit the use of a joint bank account or a joint credit card.  The rise in unemployment and the uncertainty hovering over many peoples job security may result in this being difficult to achieve.  What do you do?  The most important message is to look to make changes to the current arrangements.

Make no mistake, as coronavirus ravages life as we know it and we learn to adapt to a new way of living (even on a temporary basis), family law will also adapt and separation under one roof will see evidence of it occurring like it has never seen it before.

Stay safe.  If you feel this may help another, please share this.  We will continue to share any helpful advice that we feel may assist you at this time.

Lisa Wagner is an Accredited Family Law Specialist on Sydney’s North Shore specialising in complex property matters and children’s work.  If you have a Family Law enquiry, please contact us on (02) 9437 0010 or to discuss your matter in complete confidence. We have a team of experienced and caring professional family lawyers available to help you in this difficult time.

These posts are only intended as an overview or comment on current issues that may interest you and are not legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.